Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Bible misused as a dictionary, Faith still needs evidence

Today let us explore some more of the irrationality that propagates itself contentedly in the Adventist church. Keeping with last weeks article let us again examine a statement made by Preston Foster on Adventist Today website:
What I am positing is that 1) spirituality is, by nature, irrational as it is based on faith which is, by definition, "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (that definition, alone, would repel the traditional rational thinker) and, 2) based on our limited ability to comprehend God, whose thoughts and ways, by His own admission, are different than ours is.
How many times have we heard this statement, as if the author of the book of Hebrews was actually trying to define the meaning of faith, as if his intent was to give us the once and for all time meaning of faith even though he had used it before and it had been used many times in the Old Testament and the Jewish religion. After all those using this statement will say that they are only letting the Bible define itself as if the simple common words needed to be defined by the Bible as if it was not only a compilation of books but also a dictionary. Think about that for a moment should I use that technique if I said to someone “I love you” and I used the Bible as a dictionary I could quote “God is love” (1 John 4:8) therefore my statement is now “I God you”. Oh we can work it out in a round about way, we can say God loves and because God loves we are able to love. But still the definition of love is not found in the word God, even less so if I don't capitalize god and I realize that there are many different beliefs about god and gods, after all, not all gods are that terribly loving are they? We can't just substitute one word for another because some place it was equated in a statement where “is” is used. “God God's you” it may be true but what does it mean. So are we really being wise to use Hebrews statement as the definition of faith. Let us look at the text in question with the surrounding context, because after all context gives meaning because we are rational:

HEB 10:37 For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay.
HEB 10:38 But my righteous one n will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." n
HEB 10:39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
HEB 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
HEB 11:2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
HEB 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
HEB 11:4 By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.

The purpose here is not to define faith as some kind of irrational thought that just gets into our head and we believe it even though we don't see any evidence of it. Faith is not even meant here to mean just because a person is sure of something and hope that their certainty is true that it is in fact true in all things one maybe sure of, rather that faith in Christ is something He is sure of and encourages other to be sure of. As the Expositor's Bible Commentary says:
The chapter begins with some general observations on the nature of faith. They do not constitute a formal definition; rather, the writer is calling attention to some significant features of faith. Then he proceeds to show how faith works out in practice.

1 In the Greek the verb "is" (estin) is the first word. Faith is a present and continuing reality. It is not simply a virtue sometimes practiced in antiquity. It is a living thing, a way of life the writer wishes to see continued in the practice of his readers. Faith, he tells us, is a hypostasis of things hoped for. The term has evoked lively discussion. Sometimes it has a subjective meaning, as in 3:14 where NIV translates it as "confidence." But it may also be used more objectively, and KJV understands it that way in this passage by translating it as "substance." This would mean that things that have no reality in themselves are made real (given "substance") by faith. But this does not seem to be what the writer is saying. Rather, his meaning is that there are realities for which we have no material evidence though they are not the less real for that. Faith enables us to know that they exist and, while we have no certainty apart from faith, faith does give us genuine certainty. "To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for" (TEV). Faith is the basis, the substructure (hypostasis means lit. "that which stands under") of all that the Christian life means, all that the Christian hopes for.
Faith in the Bible is developed, it is practiced it is lived and thus Hebrews chapter 11 recounts several instances of faith. Not one of them simply based upon some irrational concept. God warns Noah and Noah builds and Ark, Abraham is called by God and goes to a foreign country, Abraham and Sarah have a child which they are promised by God. Now we may not know in all the cases how they received their messages from God but it does appear that it is not meant to convey the idea that their spirituality was based upon some form of irrationality. Instead they were trusting the one that communicated to them. The implication being that their lives included enough reason to come to the place where they could trust God rather then just following an irrational voice in their head. Think of the story of Israel's exodus from Egypt. Moses comes to Pharaoh and tells them what God wants. Pharaoh says who is this god and why should I do what he says and then evidence is provided. Pharaoh needed a rational reason to give up what was to him, his property.

We don't ever want to get to the position of faith without reason. There has to be a reason, there has to be some kind of evidence to create the faith. As Paul once wrote:

1CO 15:14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

Faith that is not backed by evidence is usually useless. Irrational preaching and faith is useless if there is not reality to move the irrational into the realm of the rational. The problem is that today there are certain people of a fundamentalist perspective who despise logic and reason because reason dictates against certain of their beliefs. Their beliefs having become sacred truth because they hold them tight because they are traditions. When reality conflicts with their beliefs instead of re-evaluating their beliefs they reject reality in favor of their traditions and as in the above quote redefine Biblical material to support their traditional views. Growth however comes from changing, discarding things that don't fit reality and adapting to new systems of thought that function with reality. It is not perfect as you don't arrive at truth instantly it is a constant movement toward greater understanding. Not every theory will work out and when they don't they must be discarded, keeping the theory just because it has become your tradition insures that you won't ever change or grow. This failure to grow is so often the landmark of religion, it becomes why Fundamentalists whether Christian or Islamic fight against modernity. Because modernity and even post modernity refuse to simply accept tradition without evidence.

So we have to move past the irrational toward rational views in all things, and God is not irrational the very process of progressive revelation of the Bible indicates that God understands the need to grow and change and step by step lead people in a rational way while maintaining the necessary distinction between the natural and the supernatural. Which requires us to reason not only why miracles occur but why they don't occur. How best can we understand a God whose capabilities so outweigh our capabilities and the distinction between force and willing trust. It is unlikely that we can fully understand God but to end the rational pursuit of God is a fulfillment of the old commercial that said “a mind is a terribly thing to waste”. We can never get to the point as someone once claimed a church authority said regarding the Godhead and The Plan of Salvation :
“to wit: if we try to understand it, we will lose our minds; but if we don’t believe it, we will lose our souls.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Adventist Mission Statement Gospel Restricted to SDA Doctrines

You have probably noticed that I am not putting up blog posts as often as I used to. Part of this is a reflection of the deep disappointment I feel in Adventism. See Addendum below for some examples.

One of the recent article on Adventist Today's website is entitled Have We Lost Sight of Our Mission? By Preston Foster. I will sum up the article by using some of the comments after the article. In response to a comment by John McClarty (in red) where he quotes Preston's original article (in bold) Preston explains his intent.
I'm not saying that our message isn't Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.  It is.  I'm not saying that the most important thing that anyone could ever discover isn't the love of Christ and the gift of salvation thru His sacrifice.  It is.
But those fundamental truths are not our mission."

Do you really mean to argue that our mission and message are separate from "the most important thing that anyone could ever discover"? Our mission is to help people discover the  second most important thing? The third most important thing?
Yes, that is exactly what I am positing.  The point is to differentiate between our message as Christians and our mission as a denomination.  Our message, like that of all Christian churches is Christ, and Him crucified.  That is the most important thing that any Christian can communicate to another human.  However, that is not the reason that this denomination exists.
(skip one paragraph)
As, perhaps, some of our brethren of other denominations were given light to see was was written about grace, we Adventists have been given a mission in regard to what has been written in Scripture about the Sabbath and its connection to identifying truth in the last days before the Second Advent.  Delivering that message is, in my view, the mission of this denomination, in the context of the body of Christ.
The problem here is not only with Preston's view of things. It is in fact the problem with the Adventist church that we create our doctrines as the official interpreter of the gospel. Let me explain the reason I say that lest I simply make unsupportable statements like the bloggers I have mentioned in the addendum. Adventists have a mission statement that is very peculiar. Until I was spurred by Preston's blog to examine our mission statement I did not realize the cryptic nature of our statement. The Adventist mission statement reads:
Our Mission
The mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to make disciples of all people, communicating the everlasting gospel in the context of the three angels' messages of Revelation 14:6-12, leading them to accept Jesus as personal Savior and unite with His remnant Church, discipling them to serve Him as Lord and preparing them for His soon return.

Our mission statement which is given by the leaders to inform the organization how to carry out their mission includes the code language of Adventism namely the three angels' messages. If you read Revelation 14 you will not understand how it explains the everlasting gospel. It does not provide the context of the everlasting gospel. For that you would be better off reading the context of the Gospels, or even Paul then Revelation 14. But the three angels messages is code language for the distinctive Adventist doctrines. Even Wikipedia understands the code method of using the three angels' message to mean the SDA church. As their article quotes the SDA church manual:
"In accordance with God’s uniform dealing with mankind, warning them of coming events that will vitally affect their destiny, He has sent forth a proclamation of the approaching return of Christ. This preparatory message is symbolized by the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14, and meets its fulfillment in the great Second Advent Movement today. This has brought forth the remnant, or Seventh-day Adventist Church, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus." Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual[2]
In short The Adventist church is the Remnant and it is her doctrines that the remnant must proclaim, the Adventist church sees itself in the book of Revelation and in Revelation 14 as being those who keep the commandments of God and have the Faith of Jesus. As Hans K. LaRondelle states in his article The Remnant and the Three Angels’ Messages
Three key teachings, each developed independently, merged into one message that began to characterize the movement of the Sabbatarian Adventists: Christ’s final ministry in the sanctuary, the Sabbath as a sign of obedience to God’s commandments, and the application of the phrase “testimony of Jesus” to a new manifestation of the prophetic gift through Ellen G. White (1827– 1915) in the “remnant” church (Rev. 12:17; 14:12; 19:10). These distinctive concepts began to be integrated into a unified body of belief during six Bible conferences held in the northeastern United States in 1848. The participants held in common a belief that in the post-1844 period all biblical truth had to be restored among God’s remnant people before the Second Advent would take place. They agreed on seven principal points, which came to be called the “landmarks” or fundamentals. These formed the “firm platform” of present truth on which the emerging Seventhday Adventist Church was built. Specifically, they were (1) the imminent Second Advent, (2) the continuous historical interpretation of the major time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, (3) the conditional immortality of human beings, (4) Christ’s beginning of His final ministry in the heavenly sanctuary in 1844, (5) the seventh-day Sabbath, (6) the renewed manifestation of the Spirit of Prophecy, and (7) the historical fulfillment of the three angels’ messages of Revelation.
What this all allows is that our mission becomes less about the Gospel and more about Adventist Doctrinal interpretations, the gospel according to Adventist doctrines. We see how important this is in the mission statement if we omit the part about remnant and three angels. Removed the statement would look like this:
The mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to make disciples of all people, communicating the everlasting gospel , leading them to accept Jesus as personal Savior and unite with His Church, discipling them to serve Him as Lord and preparing them for His soon return

That would be a pretty good mission statement. Who would have a problem with that? But of course that is not our mission statement. Remember the purpose of a mission statement is primarily internal, for the organization:
A Mission Statement defines the organization's purpose and primary objectives. Its prime function is internal – to define the key measure or measures of the organization's success – and its prime audience is the leadership team and stockholders.

This shows that the Adventist church goal is to define and spread a gospel of it's own particular formulation. Preston on February 17 commented the following on the blog:
The filter that separates those who, in the last days, are listening to (and obeying) the authentic voice of God are, per Revelation 14:12.  That is, those "keep the commandments of God" as given in Exodus 20, "and have the testimony of Jesus."  It seems many Christians, by definition, "have the testimony of Jesus."  The differentiator, for many, will be "keeping the commandments of God," as opposed to the traditions of men.  The seventh-day Sabbath is the point of differentiation between the two.
For now I will ignore the misuse of Exodus 20 as the meaning of commandments rather then the New Testament meaning of the instructions of God and the fact that really no one is keeping all the commandments of God individually or as a denomination. We see that Preston defines the gospel along narrow Adventist remnant theology. Which is what the mission statement requires.

It does make me wonder, with a mission statement so self centered how will the Adventist church ever actually present the gospel?

Addendum: Edited 9:21 Pacific Time
Adventism appears to very quickly be moving into such a narrow cult-like religion that it seems somewhat pointless to point out the foolishness that is afflicting the church from the top down. All one has to do is read the Adventist Today Blog and see they have installed various bloggers with so little sense that it is appalling. A couple of cases as examples. Originally I cited this section as a preamble to my above article, but they are really separate issues and the importance of the mission statement should be seen without the personally feeling I have regarding the quality of material from the Adventist Today bloggers.

Stephen Foster Adventist Today blogger in the comments section of Ervin Taylors Blog says:
However, regarding the Godhead and The Plan of Salvation, I will quote/paraphrase the great Dr. Calvin B. Rock,to wit: if we try to understand it,we will lose our minds; but if we don’t believe it,we will lose our souls.
Later he will say that “try to understand it” is the same as totally or fully comprehend it. It is the technique of arguing by changing the meaning of the words after he said them. You can read the conversation at the blog. It is considerably frustrating to deal with people that are that completely illogical. It is rather like the person who just peed on you leg telling you that the liquid is not from them and that it is good for you and the ground also but it was not pee and you simply cannot understand that they never peed at all. Most all of Stephen Foster's blogs are like that as well, another example is the first paragraph of his most recent blog:
Yes, it is the undeniable fact that the God of the Bible does set before us life and death, and never changes those options, that has forced those who don't like that type of God, or don't think that type of God is worthy of worship, to reinvent Him in their own image. This is what all the postmodern, emergent, cross-over-Christian psychobabble is largely about, no doubt.
As if that opening tells us anything of the kind; that if one does not accept that God sets before us life and death then everything from postmodern, emergent Christianity is reinventing God in people's image. You will not find him logically setting forth his reasoning in any of his blogs on the subject just his presuppositions as fact and they are not intelligent presuppositions or anything close to facts. But he is not alone in this type of writing style. In Cindy Tutch's article last month also supposedly on emergent churches her beginning sentence is as follows: 
In the Adventist sanctuary doctrine, which is unique to our movement, we find a visual merger of relationship (Christ our High Priest), ancient roots (the Judaic Sanctuary rituals) and a common history (unfolding dialogue between the people and God). Satan targets this highly symbolic yet relational motif because it is the very heart of God's will and instructions regarding redemption, mission, spirituality, and even worship.
You know doubt wonder how it is that Satan targets this highly symbolic yet relational motif? Well you can keep wondering because as with the old “Satan made me do it claim” the claim is all that is necessary because they can't show how Satan made them do it nor can Cindy say how Satan targets the Adventist sanctuary doctrine which is highly symbolic yet relational. If you are a critical thinking person you can probably see another problem there in something being called highly symbolic yet relational. You might like to see that little idea delved into a bit...well you will have to wait for that and I would not suggest you hold your breath to find out about that little theory.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Faith and Mystery vs. Certainity

I came upon the following quote from the speaker Brene Brown on her lecture “The power of vulnerability” at the TED website :

“The other thing we do is we make everything uncertain certain religion has gone from
faith and mystery to certainty, I'm right your wrong shut up that's it just certain...”

This is such an amazingly true statement yet so simply put that it becomes striking. This is so true of Fundamentalism and now becoming undeniable in Adventism. In a previous post I mentioned an Andrews Seminary student who I think is the perfect example of this. In Ervin Taylor's Blog entitled “Forward into the Past” we read this statement directed toward me:

“..It is also just funny how you and some others speak against the doctrines of the church and at the same time don't leave the church . People like you should be disfellowshiped , and given them a restraning order from our churches”... [please not I don't correct spelling or grammar when quoting blog comments]

I put that quote in because most who read the quote by Brene Brown will see the truth of the first part of the sentence but think that we don't actually have people saying shut up if you are not certain like them. Later on this seminary student who apparently is also already a Pastor from what he says, was more magnanimous, saying:

...”Ervin , Ron and Elaine , your problem is that you don't believe in the inspiration of scripture .As a Pastor , I wouldn't mind having you visit my church . I would just not baptize you or give you any privileges ( like preaching , or teaching a Sababth school class or leading in small groups ) So I believe there is place for everybody in the church , and I think that is what the church does to you , I don't think any of you teach or preach in the churches you attend but I am sure that people smile at you and invite you to stay after potluck . ELder Wilson say we should read more Ellen white , I thik she will answer your questions . read the chapter on creation and you will change your view .I am glad that God the remnant church the gift of prophecy and we have Ellen white who has been right on final events and every single area she wrote . Ellen is our modern day "Moses " who is going to take us to the promised land . If you don't want to be deceived by the Satan ,read her writings .”

Church is to be a place to be smiled at and maybe invited to a potluck just as long as you don't talk about what you think and are given no opportunity to express your beliefs or opinions or uncertainty. Shut up unless you believe like me seems to be the new Adventist Fundamentalism. Did you also notice that he would not even baptize those who don't believe like him. My statements here are not simply representative of this seminary student but upon the actual experiences I have in my local church and many churches I have visited. This seminary student is just a recent example who I have in writing so I don't have to rely on my memory of personal experiences.

Certainly about faith and ancient stories and ancient history is really not that wise. It leads to false acceptance of non facts to be facts. I have reason to believe the stories about Jesus Christ but that is based upon certain evidence but evidence is not completely solid which is why it has from the New Testament times been termed faith. But faith that becomes certainty is no longer faith and if that certainty is based upon the misuse of facts or the absence of facts then that certainty is hubris.

Religion as hubris is not attractive! Certainty becomes exclusiveness and rather then spreading the idea of love and acceptance with the humility to learn more, the “certain” church becomes accepting of those who believe like them, love is lost unless you believe as they do or at best a pipe dream talked about but not practices. Humility and learning become the qualities on the outside, they out there, study the natural world and they study mankind with it's many attributes, inside we have our beliefs and we are certain of them because Scriptures can only be interpreted as we on the inside interpret them. Those who are certain don't need to learn anything because it might go against their certainty, and humility becomes humility based upon the assumption that they have the truth, the certainty of their own view of the truth. As we look at history it is often those who are the most certain who are the most dangerous, you only have to look at certain segments of Islam to see that certainty in action and it deadly consequences.

A religion that has lost it's faith and mystery has lost it reason to exist.